In golf, there is old, and there is really old. The Oregon Coast Invitational, played in late July at Astoria Golf & Country Club on the north coast of Oregon, is really old. Like a hundred years old.
This quaint match play tournament, affectionately known simply as “the Coast” saw 400 players attempt to qualify this year on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. What makes it a very unique amateur tournament is that it is a combination golf tournament—and a very competitive one at that—and family reunion. People come from all over the country to play, and have been doing so for years and years. “The Oregon Coast Tournament is unique,” says Astoria Head professional John Kawasoe. “It is a week of great camaraderie, high level competition, and reunion of lifelong friends.”
The event began in 1910 as the Gearhart Summer Championship, held at Oregon’s oldest golf course, Gearhart Golf Club, just down the street from Astoria. It was not played consecutively due to world wars and the occasional cancellation. Just prior to the start of the 1951 event, by then called the Oregon Coast Tournament, it moved to Astoria G&CC, where it has been played ever since.
There are five divisions: Grand Champion (open to anyone), Junior-Senior, Senior, Super Senior, and Women. Eighteen-hole stroke play qualifying takes place on the first weekend, and then matches are played all week long, in between cocktail parties.
Through the years, it has had some notable winners, none more so than Astoria member Ralph Dichter, known as the “King of the Coast.” He won his first Grand Championship crown in 1952, and went on to win this title nine more times. He also claimed three junior-senior titles (age 45 and older) and one super senior title (65+). He played in the finals of the Grand Championship division 18 times and never played the same opponent twice.
Only Joan Edwards Powell, a Portland native and PNGA Hall of Fame member, has come close to Ditcher’s run. Powell won 12 Women’s titles and posted five runner-up finishes.
More recently, a new dynasty has emerged at the Coast — the Mack clan. George Mack Sr., a Portland CPA, has won five Grand Championship titles and three Senior titles. George Mack Jr., now a teaching pro, has three Grand Championship trophies. Mack’s daughter Cappy has won the Women’s division twice, and another daughter Renee has one Women’s title. Third daughter Laura, a perennial Pacific Northwest champion, has won seven times. Keeping track? That’s 21 Coast victories for the Mack family. And counting.
The scorecard at Astoria says 6,538 yards from the tips, but don’t let that fool you. This is one of the great, tough, short courses in America. There is not a lot of roll due to marine air, and the rough bordering the narrow fairways can be U.S. Open-like. The greens? Small, firm and fast. Real fast. This is a golf course that plays much longer than its stated distance, and a constant coastal breeze requires the ability to hit all kinds of different shots. Routed among the dunes, Astoria has long been the jewel of the northern Oregon coast. Purists love Astoria.
The amateur game in America is rich and diverse. There are so many interesting but not well-known tournaments like the Coast. It’s the spirit about these events that make them so special. That spirit was best captured in a book published this year in conjunction with the centennial anniversary. There in the opening pages is this passage:
“It is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, a handshake, and the sharing of a cooler that follows. Both players relive the match, congratulating each other for their finest shots and move on, no matter what the outcome. It is a happening, where generations come together for a few rounds of golf, socializing with friends and family, good food and good times. It is about new friendships and new relationships. Opponents become friends while being joined in a hole-by-hole combat, battling each other, the golf course, and the conditions. Once joined, competitors are linked by a common memory for years to come.”
GGP colleague Jim Whittemore, with 35 Coast appearances, contributed to this column.